Left Front wins a war, but also loses a crucial battle
The CPI(M)-led Left won a war, but lost a major battle in these assembly elections.
The Left party retained Kerala for two consecutive terms, breaking a 35-year-old tradition of the incumbent being dethroned every five years. It is also on the winning side in Tamil Nadu as part of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led alliance. But in West Bengal, its desperate experiment of sharing seats with the Congress miserably failed and hopes of any revival in its bastion for 34 years further faded away.
The victory in Kerala is the most significant electoral gain for the Left since it lost Bengal in 2011. CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said, “I salute people of Kerala for reposing in the faith in Left Democratic Front (LDF). Our government gave a new Kerala model to the world on how to handle pandemic.”
Congress leaders conceded that chief minister Pinarai Vijayan’s populist measures, such as free ration and increased social benefits, worked well while the Congress remained more disorganised compared to its rivals. “The Sabarimala issue, too didn’t work as we expected. In Kerala, usually, any major issue doesn’t last beyond one election,” said a senior Congress leader.
The direct fallout of the election results will be the stronger presence of the Kerala lobby in the CPI(M). In the past few years, Bengal leaders forced their decisions - from backing Sitaram Yechury as party chief to forging a pact with the Congress in the state. “But with no sign of revival in Bengal and Kerala [performance in] going stronger, it’s but natural that the comrades from the southern state are going to dominate the party policies and strategies more”, said a senior CPI(M) leader.
With K Karunakaran of Congress losing power in 1987, a cycle of change began in Kerala. Between 1987 and 2016, no party could retain power for two consecutive terms. P Vijayan’s government brought that welcome change for the party.
While the Kerala victory would mean a more aggressive anti-Congress and anti-BJP line at the state level, the CPI(M) may have to grapple for political space in the larger non-BJP opposition unity at the national stage. While the personal equations between Yechury and some of the top Opposition leaders remain excellent, it can’t help but face the rise of a more powerful Mamata Banerjee in the Opposition club.